Plaster sculpture and mixed media
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris
The three sculptures are beautiful, white, and well-defined in highly polished plaster. They recall classical marble sculptures representing ancient gods and heroes, but a closer look reveals that they are women in work clothes. One is holding up a cherished object to the light which, on closer inspection, turns out to be a bomb. Another is standing in deep concentration, filling a similar bomb with gunpowder with a spoon. The work Girls of Chilwell by the French artist Melik Ohanian can be viewed as a tribute to the working women during World War I. They are wearing their overalls as representatives of the workers killed during the explosion of the national shell-filling factory in Chilwell, England, in 1918. A factory employing many women.
Melik Ohanian often addresses the working class and their social conditions. His works span filmic works of striking dockers in Liverpool to sculptural works of working-class men and women in polished plaster. This resembles expensive marble which is traditionally used for sculpting.
In terms of art history, the celebration of workers has often been associated with propaganda and kitsch art, for example, that originating in the Eastern bloc or during World War II or when used to express party politics. However, this has changed and at present, one can trace an increasing and renewed interest in working people.
Although a work hierarchy does exist today which tends to place knowledge workers higher than skilled workers, this hierarchy is not quite so unambiguous in art. If we look back to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, we will find countless depictions of workers in factories, fishermen, and civil servants while artists very rarely portrayed office workers and middle managers.